As Christians, our first duty is to listen to, to hear, and to understand the word of God.
This verse makes me think of the valuable, but not often heeded aphorism: “Think before you speak.”
It seems that we Americans, in particular, need to be challenged by this concept. One of our greatest, and most cherished freedoms in this culture is our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. But do we really understand what that means, particularly we who call ourselves Christians?
As Christians, our first duty is to listen to, to hear, and to understand the word of God. In our relations with others as Christians, we are to give this kind of respect to our neighbor as well. The development of this skill, indeed, this art, is a lifelong endeavor for all of us. It is a complicated skill. The most important virtue involved in it is that of humility. It is an unusual commodity in our experience to find one humble enough to know that he or she does not know everything. But that is what Paul is teaching us here. Humility makes us realize that what we know now, at this moment in time, in many things, is only part of the whole of the truth about things. The fact is that, as finite beings, we will never be able to know, here on earth, all their is to know about God, or one another for that matter. But we do know that God calls us constantly, through our successes and even through our failures, to come to know him more intimately, more faithfully, every day. Are we listening?
But we must speak too. Here is where today’s passage has real importance for us. When we speak, we are to do so with care. We are not to be babblers, or users of foul, or intemperate language, but to speak openly, clearly, and truthfully, choosing words that are appropriate to the “needs of the moment.” The Holy Spirit, through Paul, is telling us here to use our words gracefully at all times, so that they can “give grace to those who hear.” This means we must learn the art of thinking before speaking. And it means that our speech must be shaped by our knowledge of God, our love for Him, and our respect for the infinite dignity of those to whom we are speaking.
This, of course, is a challenge for all of us. It is a matter of faith and mental self-discipline in the end. It requires both humility and practice. As a teacher one learns that it is important to use language that is appropriate to the age and skill levels that you are addressing. You cannot teach children in the same way that you teach adults, and vice versa. You cannot answer the questions of one who is seeking to know God for the first time, with the complicated, sophisticated language of a theologian. You have to use words that appeal to their experience and to their own understanding. But most of all, Paul tells us to speak the truth clearly, without shading it in any way. It is in speaking this way that we honor God, and recognize our sacred duties toward one another as neighbors, or as brothers and sisters.
Lord, help us to discipline our words. Give us the humility to listen first before we speak. Help us to deepen our love for your word, so that all of our words may be charged with that same love. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!
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